Shawne Merriman: Lamar Jackson Will Be 'Most Unstoppable Player of All Time' If His Passing Improves
Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman weighed in on the subject of whether Lamar Jackson will be "figured out" this season, and he said the real question people should be asking is: Can you stop him?
"How many times have guys had him dead-on in the backfield and he just kind of shook their ankles and left them in the dust?" Merriman said on Glenn Clark Radio. "It doesn't matter if you know what he's going to do, it matters whether you can stop him or not."
The notion that teams will solve the 2019 unanimous league MVP became a buzzworthy topic of conversation a couple weeks ago when ESPN's Jeremy Fowler said: "There are a lot of people around the league that I speak to that are talking a little slick. They say this might be the year that everybody figures out Lamar Jackson."
Are there aspects of the passing game that the 24-year-old Jackson needs to improve on? Sure. He knows that, the Ravens know that, and they're committed to doing exactly that.
If Jackson continues to evolve as a multi-dimensional player, Merriman suggested the rest of the league is in a lot of trouble.
"If Lamar Jackson got better this year with throwing and being more accurate, he'll be the most unstoppable player of all time, because what do you do with a guy like that?" he said.
Merriman also was asked for his thoughts on the Ravens signing veteran edge rusher Justin Houston this offseason.
"If you bring in a guy like Justin Houston, you're looking at him as being a situational guy — late in the third quarter, beginning of the fourth, third-and-long, you need a turnover or a sack, forced fumble, that's when you put a guy like that in the game because you bring him on the team for what he can do when you need him," Merriman said. "I still watch his game film here and there and he has one of the best takeoffs in the business."
Pundits Expect Ravens, Browns to Battle for Supremacy in AFC North
With the NFL regular season set to kickoff next Thursday, media outlets have begun releasing their predictions and rankings. The consensus is that the AFC North will be a two-team race between the Ravens and Cleveland Browns.
The Athletic asked five NFL front-office executives to rank all 16 teams in the AFC heading into the season. The Ravens came in at No. 3 overall, followed by the Browns at No. 4 (the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills were Nos. 1 and 2, respectively).
One voter said he dropped the Ravens from second in the conference to fourth because of the season-ending injury to J.K. Dobbins, but another voter said: "The sky is falling because the back got hurt? Dobbins was their No. 2 running back behind the quarterback anyway. All their offensive ills are cured by their strong culture of defense."
Another voter added: "The last time Baltimore had a bad defense, it was the Colts."
Even though the Browns were No. 4, one voter ranked them eighth and another had them ninth.
"I don't go all-in when I see first-year success for a quarterback or head coach," one voter said. "There can be a shock value where it is the unexpected. That is how I see the Browns."
NFL.com's panel of analysts was more bullish on the Browns. Nineteen of the 29 analysts picked the Browns to win their first division title since 1989. The Ravens received nine votes, and the Pittsburgh Steelers got one.
"The Browns are loaded and legit!" Adam Schein wrote. "Myles Garrett is one of the best defensive players in football. Nick Chubb anchors an elite running attack. Baker Mayfield has found his groove under Kevin Stefanski. Forget about the "Factory of Sadness" — it's time to fully believe in this franchise."
ESPN projected each team's ceiling and a floor in terms of win-loss record based on 20,000 simulations of the entire season and using the middle 90 percent of the simulations. The Ravens' ceiling was 13-4 and their floor was 8-9. The Browns' ceiling/floor projections were 12-5/8-9.
ESPN's Jamison Hensley said the biggest variable for the Ravens is whether they overcome the loss of Dobbins.
"Baltimore has been nearly unstoppable when it gets the ground game rolling, and it is 16-2 (.889) over the past two seasons when gaining over 180 rushing yards. But when held under that mark, Baltimore is 9-5 (.642)," Hensley wrote. "It's a favorable schedule for the Ravens, who play 12 games against run defenses that ranked in the bottom half of the NFL, but Gus Edwards and Ty'Son Williams have to show they can fill the void left by Dobbins, who was primed for a breakout season."
Raiders Sign Veteran LB K.J. Wright Ahead of Opener Against Ravens
Less than two weeks before the Las Vegas Raiders host the Ravens on "Monday Night Football" in Week 1, they signed longtime Seattle Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright to bolster their defense.
"Moving to Vegas ushers in a reunion between Wright and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, the defensive coordinator in Seattle from 2009-2012," NFL.com's Kevin Patra wrote. "Wright should slide right into the SAM role, a vital position in Bradley's defense.
"Even as he enters his 11th season, Wright can still run and make plays, evidenced by his 86 tackles, two sacks, two fumble recoveries, and one INT last season. He hasn't missed a game since 2018, when knee issues relegated him to just five tilts. The addition of Wright brings a massive boost in leadership and reliability to a Raiders defense in need of both."
On a sidenote regarding the Ravens-Raiders game, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote that Baltimore not being at full strength is noteworthy.
"The Ravens aren't looking for sympathy, but it feels pretty significant that when they line up against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sept. 13, they'll be without their top running back in Dobbins, two of their top five receivers in [Rashod] Bateman and [Miles] Boykin, their top blocking tight end in Nick Boyle, likely one of their top cornerbacks in Jimmy Smith and a valuable and versatile linebacker and core special teamer in L.J. Fort," Zrebiec wrote.
"Although the Ravens are accustomed to not having Smith, not being able to use the matchup defensive back against Darren Waller in Week 1 and Travis Kelce in Week 2 would be less than ideal."